Indigenous Australians

Indigenous Australians
(Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders)
Total population
649,171 (2016)
2.8% of Australia's population (2016)[1]
Population distribution by state/territory
 New South Wales216,176(2.89%)
 Western Australia75,978(3.07%)
 Northern Territory58,248(25.45%)
 South Australia34,184(2.04%)
 Australian Capital Territory6,508(1.64%)
Several hundred Indigenous Australian languages (many extinct or nearly so), Australian English, Australian Aboriginal English, Torres Strait Creole, Kriol
Related ethnic groups
Papuans, Melanesians

Indigenous Australians are the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Australia, descended from groups that existed in Australia and surrounding islands prior to British colonisation. The time of arrival of the first Indigenous Australians is a matter of debate among researchers. The earliest conclusively human remains found in Australia are those of Mungo Man LM3 and Mungo Lady, which have been dated to around 50,000 years BP.[2] Recent archaeological evidence from the analysis of charcoal and artefacts revealing human use suggests a date as early as 65,000 BP.[3][4] Luminescence dating has suggested habitation in Arnhem Land as far back as 60,000 years BP.[5] Genetic research has inferred a date of habitation as early as 80,000 years BP. Other estimates have ranged up to 100,000 years[6] and 125,000 years ago.[7]

Although there are a number of commonalities between indigenous Aboriginal Australians, there is also a great diversity among different Indigenous communities and societies in Australia, each with its own mixture of cultures, customs and languages. In present-day Australia these groups are further divided into local communities.[8] At the time of initial European settlement, over 250 languages were spoken; it is currently estimated that 120 to 145 of these remain in use, but only 13 of these are not considered endangered.[9][10] Aboriginal people today mostly speak English, with Aboriginal phrases and words being added to create Australian Aboriginal English (which also has a tangible influence of Indigenous languages in the phonology and grammatical structure). The population of Indigenous Australians at the time of permanent European settlement is contentious and has been estimated at between 318,000[11] and 1,000,000[12] with the distribution being similar to that of the current Australian population, the majority living in the south-east, centred along the Murray River.[13] A population collapse principally from disease followed European invasion[14][15] beginning with a smallpox epidemic spreading three years after the arrival of Europeans. Massacres and war by British settlers also contributed to depopulation.[16][17] The characterisation of this violence as genocide is controversial and disputed.[18]

Since 1995, the Australian Aboriginal Flag and the Torres Strait Islander Flag have been among the official flags of Australia.

Indigenous Australia

The Australian Aboriginal Flag


In 1870, during the period of scientific racism, Thomas Huxley categorised Indigenous Australians as part of the Australoid race.[19] Today such views are no longer held. There are significant differences in social, cultural and linguistic customs between the various Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups.

The word aboriginal has been in the English language since at least the 16th century, to mean, "first or earliest known, indigenous". It comes from the Latin word aborigines, derived from ab (from) and origo (origin, beginning).[20] The word was used in Australia to describe its indigenous peoples as early as 1789. It soon became capitalised and employed as the common name to refer to all Indigenous Australians.

Strictly speaking, Aborigine is the noun and Aboriginal the adjectival form, but the latter is often also employed as a noun. Use of either Aborigine(s) or Aboriginal(s) to refer to individuals has acquired negative connotations in some sectors of the community, and it is generally regarded as insensitive and even offensive.[21][22] The more accepted expression is Aboriginal Australians or Aboriginal people. The term Indigenous Australians, which also includes Torres Strait Islander peoples, has found increasing acceptance, particularly since the 1980s.[23]

Regional groups

The broad term Aboriginal Australians includes many regional groups that often identify under names from local Indigenous languages. These include:

Men and boys playing a game of gorri, 1922
Men from Bathurst Island, 1939

These larger groups may be further subdivided; for example, Anangu (meaning a person from Australia's central desert region) recognises localised subdivisions such as Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara, Ngaanyatjarra, Luritja and Antikirinya. It is estimated that prior to the arrival of British settlers, the population of Indigenous Australians was approximately 318,000–750,000 across the continent.[12]

Torres Strait Islanders

The Torres Strait Islanders possess a heritage and cultural history distinct from Aboriginal traditions. The eastern Torres Strait Islanders in particular are related to the Papuan peoples of New Guinea, and speak a Papuan language.[24] Accordingly, they are not generally included under the designation "Aboriginal Australians". This has been another factor in the promotion of the more inclusive term "Indigenous Australians". Six percent of Indigenous Australians identify themselves fully as Torres Strait Islanders. A further 4% of Indigenous Australians identify themselves as having both Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal heritage.[25]

The Torres Strait Islands comprise over 100 islands[26] which were annexed by Queensland in 1879.[26] Many Indigenous organisations incorporate the phrase "Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander" to highlight the distinctiveness and importance of Torres Strait Islanders in Australia's Indigenous population.

Eddie Mabo was from "Mer" or Murray Island in the Torres Strait, which the famous Mabo decision of 1992 involved.[26]

The terms "black" and "blackfella"

The term "black" has been used to refer to Indigenous Australians since European settlement.[27] While originally related to skin colour, the term is used today to indicate Aboriginal heritage or culture in general and refers to any people of such heritage regardless of their level of skin pigmentation.[28]

In the 1970s, many Aboriginal activists, such as Gary Foley, proudly embraced the term "black", and writer Kevin Gilbert's ground-breaking book from the time was entitled Living Black. The book included interviews with several members of the Aboriginal community, including Robert Jabanungga, reflecting on contemporary Aboriginal culture. A less formal term, used by Indigenous Australians themselves and not normally derogatory, is "blackfellas", as distinguished from "whitefellas".

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Aborigines
azərbaycanca: Avstraliya aborigeni
български: Аборигени
bosanski: Aboridžini
čeština: Austrálci
Deutsch: Aborigines
hrvatski: Aboridžini
Bahasa Indonesia: Pribumi-Australia
Basa Jawa: Aborigin
kurdî: Aborjîn
Bahasa Melayu: Aborigin
日本語: アボリジニ
norsk: Aboriginer
norsk nynorsk: Aboriginar
rumantsch: Aborigines
Simple English: Indigenous Australians
slovenščina: Avstralski domorodci
ślůnski: Jaborygyny
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Aboridžini Australije
svenska: Aboriginer
Tiếng Việt: Thổ dân châu Úc